“This was totally unexpected,” were the first words Russ Michaletz found to describe his Merle Else Heart of Rotary Award. His wife Jan (right) shared the moment.

The room fell silent. It was one of those pregnant pauses, filled with unbridled joy as Russ Michaletz fought back the peer admiration welling up in his eyes. “Service above self” is the motto of Rotary – the world’s largest and most generous service organization. “Service above self” is also why I nominated Russ for the Merle Else Heart of Rotary Award he received last week.

The perfect day: Russ met his first grandchild, Colin Russell Michaletz, born to Katy and John Michaletz on Wednesday, September 25, 2013.

To understand the magic of the moment, realize Russ walked into Rotary that morning distracted by the fact his son and daughter-in-law were laboring in the maternity ward. He was as giddy as a teenage girl on prom night. He expected to slide out of Rotary to dash off and meet his first grandchild: Colin Russell Michaletz. But then there was the pregnant pause – Rotarian gratitude just wouldn’t wait.

My lucky day: basking in the glow of one of my mentors and role models.

Role models like Russ Michaletz shape lives whether they know it or not; whether they like it or not. Russ basically made me join Rotary when I was 29 years old by saying: “You just need to be there.” Over the next 21 years, I would have three jobs and start my own business — my family, Rotary friends and church friends have been the constant throughout those years. I consider Russ to be all three. He modeled a Seven Fs lifestyle in these memorable ways:

  • Serving as Rotary President, he stabilized our club after a fraudulent book-keeper cleaned out our coffers — reminding us surviving the injustice would be our finest hour
  • Living gratefully as an innocent partner through the Arthur Andersen collapse – emerging hopeful, joyful and feeling “young again” at the prospect of starting anew
  • Always making significant financial gifts to campaigns at our church, Gustavus and Rotary, sharing with me privately his belief that philanthropy is about expressing your joy and confidence in the future; your own future included
  • Raising two daughters who served as our summer nannies for six years
  • Dutifully working out early mornings at the Minneapolis Club Fitness Center and admitting he doesn’t enjoy it

As Russ lifted the heart-shaped trophy, he was overcome by the weight of admiration and the joy of what’s possible for his first-born grandson.  It was a perfect day. And the fact he couldn’t speak said everything.

Good leaders make a habit of leading by example without expecting anyone to be watching. And they live in ways that help us recognize the perfect moments that lead to the perfect day.

Please share with us: who do you admire today?